Thursday, March 13, 2008

Poetic Justice

I recently came across what I thought of as a beautiful poem, entitled I Am Woman - Celebrate Me, written by Canadian Muslim feminist and activist, Raheel Raza. Addressing issues of sexism, racism, and misogyny among others, this poem was written by Raza and presented to WOMANVOICE, on Dec 6, 2004 to celebrate the International Day of Action for Violence Against Women and to commemorate the 14 women killed at Ecole Polytechnic in Montreal, Quebec, Canada, (aka The Montreal Massacre). Although a few years old I felt this deserved some attention.

Racism, imperialism, violence, sexism, misogyny, patriacrhy:

Raza begins the poem with the voice of an Afghani woman speaking to those in the West. Describing the devastation in her life, Raza aptly criticizes the West for not only the bombs they dropped on her home, but also for the patronizing focus on the superficial - her burqa. The way in which she then uses her ever demonized cloak to protect herself from the terror of the very West which tries to liberate her is brilliant.

This tattered cloak - is my only protection
from the mortar and shells
that you gift to my land – as you turn it into a living hell

Raza then does something 'bold' - she demonstrates the strength this Afghani woman has to help other Afghani women. Condescendingly assuming that they must save her, the West has denied her agency, her power, and her desire to better her life and that of other Afghani women.

Traditional Western feminism has assumed that non-Western women have neither the drive nor the means to help themselves. Raza counters this racism and claims this agency, this power, this strength as something which is inherent in her. Raza minimizes the issue of the ever present burqa and focuses on the real problems of women in war torn regions.

Violence, patriarchy, sexism, misogyny:

Raza then takes the voice of a Pakistani woman, the acid burning victim of her own men - an ever growing problem in Pakistan. As a village woman she tells us of this heinous attempt by the men of her village to maintain their honour. Again, Raza claims her agency and stands up to those who perpetrate this crime. Raza alludes to some prominent cases in Pakistan of women fighting against injustices (Mukhtar Mai, Dr. Shazia Khalid). Aptly describing a frustrating system which does not punish honour killings, or attempts of, with the appropriate vigour, Raza paints a picture of misogyny, sexism, and patriarchy at an exasperating point in Pakistan.

Violence, imperialism:

By taking the voice of a Muslim/Jewish/Christian Middle Eastern woman Raza creates unity through the universal maternal instinct which know no barriers and exists and suffers in the bloodshed of fighting. Her attempt to create a sense of unity among all women begins with this verse and is one which pulls at the heart strings of many maternally inclined women.

Patriarchy, violence, sexism, prejudice, dehumanization:

By taking the voice of a prostitute, Raza really does cross all barriers and describes another universal predicament women find themselves in. Addressing everyone, Raza, with a slap in the face, reminds us of our own prejudices against and dehumanizing of prostitutes. Although men are implied as the direct victimizers, we are all painted as guilty of making these women victims. A point well taken.

Racism, sexism, Islamophobia, xenophobia:

The voice of the Muslim immigrant woman was refreshing because it is rarely heard. Finally it seems, Raza presents us with the struggles of an immigrant woman. The daughter of a Muslim immigrant woman this encounter hit home for myself. This short poetic verse does justice (as much as it can) to those incredibly brave women who never seem to get the credit they deserve. Raza gives us a wake up call for those of us who take the struggles of our mothers for granted. However, the sombre reminder of the presence of Islamophobia reminds us of the racism and humiliation our mothers are now being rewarded with, from the hands of not only those who openly hate us, but also those who purport to help us. Another swing at Western superiority and perhaps even western feminism?

Finally, Raza ties everything together by emphasizing the importance of unity among women. Re-iterating that we all face struggles regardless of our backgrounds. Although this is a wonderful ideal one can't help but wonder if it is possible until others problems such as racism, xenophobia and Islamophobia are dealt with first. Nonetheless, unity among women is worth working towards.